The Worlds End to be Haydock Hero

The Betfair Chase commands top-billing at Haydock on Saturday, with Cue Card attempting to win the prestigious event for the fourth time.

Bristol De Mai looks set to be sent off favourite following his success in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. With ground and track ideal, he certainly looks a major player. Outlander travels over the Irish Sea, and though erratic, is a class act on his day. Good enough to win the Lexus last Christmas, he bounced back to form last time with victory in the Champion Chase. And Tea For Two can’t be dismissed based on his Betway Bowl success at Aintree. He also ran a cracker in last year’s King George and should strip much fitter following his slightly disappointing performance in last month’s Old Roan.

With so few entered and none at a price worth an each-way punt, I’ve decided to look elsewhere for the Friday Preview. For what it’s worth, I’m keeping faith with Cue Card. Despite his age I think he’ll prove too good.
I’ve decided to have a crack at Haydock’s Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle, formerly the Fixed Brush, despite it appearing to be the most open renewals in living memory.

First run in 2005, the roll of honour is a pretty tasty one for a handicap. Halcon Genelardais won in 2006 and a month later romped to victory in the Welsh National. Diamond Harry was an immense talent, and he landed the prize in 2009. A year later he was a thrilling winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup, with the mighty Denman back in third. David Pipe has won the race with a trio of French-bred five-year-olds. The best of these was Dynaste, who went on to become a high-class staying chaser. He came close to landing a Betfair Chase and the King George, whilst in 2014 he was successful in the Ryanair chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

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Pipe has a similar type in tomorrow’s renewal, with Champers On Ice returning to hurdles after a disappointing term over fences. By French stallion Robin Des Champs, the seven-year-old never took to the larger obstacles, but on his last outing over hurdles was a terrific third in the Albert Bartlett of 2016 behind Unowhatimeanharry. He’s on an attractive handicap mark and is sure to be primed for a strong performance. He does lack gears, though testing conditions should make that less of a factor.

The Worlds End is favourite for the race following an impressive season as a novice. The six-year-old came down at the second-last when mounting a huge challenge in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March. He made amends at Aintree when taking the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. His pedigree suggests he’ll handle conditions, as does his exaggerated knee action. Horses trained by Tom George tend to thrive in testing ground. He was an impressive winner on his only previous visit to Haydock when giving weight and a thrashing to Dan Skelton’s No Hassle Hoff.

The Harry Fry-trained Minella Awards is next best in the betting. The six-year-old ended the last campaign with victory at the Punchestown Festival, battling bravely to defeat No Comment. He’s a big chasing type and a thorough stayer. By Oscar out of a Presenting mare, he appeared to be suited by the better ground in Ireland and that may be a slight concern.

Nick Williams has won two of the last eight and has a fancied contender in the French-bred Le Rocher. A classy juvenile, he lost a season through injury and arguably hasn’t quite progressed as hoped. Nevertheless, he loves testing ground and if coping with this step-up in trip could prove a huge player. He’s by Saint De Saints and ought to thrive at the distance. He’s won five of his 11 starts over hurdles and should be fighting fit after a pipe-opener in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October.

Sam Spinner was ahead of him that day, and the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained five-year-old has plenty of scope for further improvement. Yet to be out of the first two in seven starts under rules, he’s another that needs to cope with this extended trip, though he certainly wasn’t stopping last time. Up 3lbs for the Chepstow run, he looks well treated and must to have a great chance if lasting home.

Gayebury has bits of form that would certainly give him a chance in this. He’ll appreciate both trip and conditions, though was somewhat disappointing on his reappearance when tailed off in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. Evan Williams has put a 5lb claimer onboard which offsets a handicap mark which looks slightly high. Of those at a decent price, he has a chance.

Three Musketeers is an intriguing contender. Dan Skelton’s seven-year-old looked a future star a couple of years back, but when sent over fences his form proved patchy. He showed hints of an improvement at Aintree last time, and an interesting handicap mark, coupled with testing conditions could see him surprising a few.

This is a race that rarely produces a shock winner, and though predictable I’ll be siding with The Worlds End. He has course form and looked to be one of the leading novice hurdlers last term. I’ll also have a few quid on Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers. I’m hoping that soft ground, a generous handicap mark and Bridget Andrews taking a further 3lbs off his back will all play a part in a much-improved display.

Best of luck to those having a punt.

Magnificent Martaline – A Leading French Stallion

The career of talented chaser Dynaste came to an end at the weekend, following a slightly disappointing run in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Sandown.

The popular 11-year-old grey had been one of David Pipe’s stable stars for almost half a dozen years. The racecourse highlight came when winning the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2014. He followed that performance with a second-place finish in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree, and later that year was runner-up to Silviniaco Conti in the King George at Kempton.

Though an attractive looking grey, Dynaste could not compete in the looks department with his talented father Martaline. The truly gorgeous French stallion is virtually white from nose to tail. A strikingly powerful colt, he stands at Haras De Montaigu, a beautifully picturesque stud in North-West France.

A classy horse on the flat, Martaline was at his best as a four-year-old in 2003, when runner-up in the Group 2 Grand Prix De Chantilly before winning the Prix Maurice De Nieuil at Longchamp. That victory came at 1m6f, when he defeated an outstanding stayer in Westerner. He was victorious or placed in 12 of his 22 career starts. It’s also interesting to note, that his most disappointing performances came on heavy ground.

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As a leading French National Hunt stallion in recent years, he has produced numerous talented jumpers for trainers on both sides of the English Channel.

Agrapart was a high-profile success for the French sire recently, when taking the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Trained by Nick Williams, the six-year-old clearly thrived in testing conditions, when getting up late to beat L’Ami Serge, with Cole Harden seven lengths back in third. He’s likely to head for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, though he looks a chaser in the making, and certainly has the action over hurdles to suggest that he’ll suit a fence.

Another with a Cheltenham success to his name this season, is the Colin Tizzard trained Viconte Du Noyer. Owned by the Potts’, he’d previously been trained in Ireland by Henry De Bromhead, and was winning the Grade 3 Betvictor Handicap Chase on his first run for the new yard. He failed to take to the Grand National fences next time at Aintree and then ran below par in testing ground at the Welsh National. His win at Cheltenham suggested there’s plenty more to come, so I wouldn’t be losing faith in this fella. Better ground may well be essential, and he’s worth a second luck with conditions to suit.

One from the bloodline that does enjoy Aintree’s National fences, is the Gordon Elliott trained Ucello Conti. He was fourth in the Becher Chase in December, having been sixth in the Grand National last April. It’s tough to say whether he truly stayed the trip that day on soft ground, but he’s likely to be back for another crack this year, and on a more attractive looking handicap mark.

Noel Meade also looks to have a talented chaser on his hands with the six-year-old grey gelding Disko. He seemed to appreciate better ground when running a cracker at Leopardstown over Christmas. His third-place finish in the Grade 1 three-mile novice chase was a personal best, and he’d be a live contender at Cheltenham in March, for either the JLT or the RSA. He’s not short of speed. Meade’s last Cheltenham Festival winner was another son of Martaline, with Very Wood landing the Albert Bartlett of 2014 at huge odds.

Another from the Martaline production line, who is rapidly going the right way, is Tim Vaughan’s hurdler, Theligny. Despite four victories and three second place finishes from his eight outings over hurdles, the six-year-old remains on a fair handicap mark. He was impressive at Newbury last time, when showing a terrific attitude in holding off the Rebecca Curtis trained Geordie Des Champs. That came at two and a half miles, and the target may well be the Martin Pipe Conditional at The Festival, with classy claimer Alan Johns likely to be on-board.

As an 18-year-old, Martaline continues to prove an extremely popular stallion. A strike-rate of 31% this season for his offspring, shows just how potent he is. It would be no surprise to see many more of his progeny travelling across the Channel in the coming years.

Comeback Conti – Nicholls Works His Magic

Paul Nicholls switched from despair to delight in the blink of an eye on Saturday.

His enigmatic hurdler Irving had once again threw in a desperate performance, this time at Wincanton in the Kingwell Hurdle. Back in November he’d thrashed Melodic Rendezvous in the Elite Hurdle at the same track. And just a few weeks later he got the better of Henderson’s gutsy young hurdler Top Notch at Haydock. A poor performance had followed in the Fighting Fifth, but a winter’s break looked sure to have left him refreshed and raring to go for Saturday’s Grade 2.

Unfortunately he lacked any sort of Zip and was trailing from three out. He finished a tailed off fourth of four and another season that promised plenty has fizzled out. Nicholls had been watching on television screens at Ascot and was visibly shaken by the lamentable display. Speaking to Channel 4 Racing the champion trainer said: “He ran absolutely dire. I thought he’s been in the best form we could get him in. He’s been going really well and has just run dire.”

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That performance would have left Nicholls full of trepidation as the time approached for Silviniaco Conti to take to the track in the Betfair Ascot Chase. Yet just 15 minutes later a jubilant trainer was welcoming a returning hero after an exemplary display. With regular pilot Noel Fehily on board, the dual King George winner treated the Ascot crowd to a thoroughly dominant performance.

Royal Regatta set a strong pace at a track he has come to love, with Silviniaco on his tail throughout. The two stretched clear of the chasing pack turning for home and the race was over as a contest as Fehily sent his willing partner on at the second last. He finished 20 lengths clear of the eventual runner-up Dynaste.

Many had voiced concerns over the 2m5f trip, but it proved to be ideal. And though he’s won at both left and right hand tracks, his tendency to jump slightly out to the right ensured Ascot was a perfect fit. Ground conditions and the application of blinkers were further aids toward this stunning performance.

Nicholls said of the winner: “This is probably the first time we've had him pain-free this season. The blinkers were the right thing today, the ground was right and I'd say he was back to his best. After Irving had run so bad in the race before [at Wincanton] it was a pleasure to see one run as well as he did. To win seven Grade 1 races after Kauto and co have finished is great.”

Nicholls ruled out a return to Cheltenham but confirmed that Aintree is now the target, saying: “The Grand National is a definite possibility. It is highly likely he could run. He is going to be arguably well in now and Noel is keen on it.” Should a decision be made to dodge the National, he would likely go for the Betfred Bowl; a race he has won on his last two visits to Liverpool.

Hats off to Nicholls as he once again brings a faltering stable star back to his best. It’s been a turbulent winter for Ditcheat, with several high profile chasers failing to make an impact, whilst others spend time in their box due to niggling setbacks. Yet still the trainers’ championship is all but won, and his relentless pursuit of success, along with an overwhelming desire to be the best, shows no sign of diminishing.

Right On Cue – Jumps Season Takes Flight

Cue Card back on top

Cue Card back on top

Across the Atlantic American Pharoah’s historic victory thrilled a nation, and proved a fitting conclusion to the Breeders’ Cup. Whilst back in Old Blighty Cue Card reminded us of the enthralling winter that lies ahead.

Action from Wetherby, Ascot and Down Royal provided a notable gear-shift in the latest National Hunt campaign. But it was Colin Tizzard’s stable star that created the headlines. Last season had proved a huge disappointment, when after poor runs at Haydock and Kempton he had to miss the Cheltenham Festival due to on-going wind issues. He was then thumped by Don Cossack at Aintree, before ending the campaign with a promising run at Punchestown. Saturday’s stunning win in the Charlie Hall Chase was a welcome return to form for the popular chaser.

Tizzard had spouted confidently of a big run and so it proved. After the win the trainer said: “Last year he was troubled by a trapped epiglottis, so it is wonderful to see him back to something like his best. We brought him in a month early this time and he's been brilliant all the way through. He's in the Hennessy and on Tuesday morning he'll also be entered in the Betfair Chase, so we've got options.”

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The Betfair at Haydock had been the scene of his last success back in 2013, and surely that would now be the logical target, assuming he comes out of the Wetherby victory fit and well. It was the first time Paddy Brennan had partnered the horse in competition and the jockey was clearly thrilled with the win. He rode the horse prominently throughout, taking the lead turning into the straight. There was a moment between the last two fences when Cue Card looked to be tiring, however, he picked up again after the last and was going away at the line.

David Pipe’s pair of Dynaste and Ballynagour ran with great credit in second and third, and at least one of those seem likely to reoppose later this month at Haydock.

Earlier at Wetherby the testing ground had proved a little too much for Rock On Ruby to handle, when he failed to land a blow on impressive winner Kilcooley in the Bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle. The winner is a machine on soft or heavy ground and could prove dominant in staying hurdles throughout the winter if getting his preferred conditions. Charlie Longsdon’s six-year-old ran his rivals ragged in what appeared a lifetime best performance.

Both Rock On Ruby and the third home Aqalim will prove far more competitive on a sounder surface, and cannot be discounted from the major end of season staying events.

Over in Ireland, Don Cossack was cruising to victory in Down Royal’s Champion Chase. He’s a hugely talented chaser with a serious engine; however, his jumping is still sticky at times, and will probably need to improve if he is to beat the very best. He looks likely to head for Kempton and contest the King George, though I’m not certain either the track or style of race would necessarily suit this huge strong galloper.

Yesterday saw the return of another with Gold Cup aspirations when Saphir Du Rheu jumped impeccably at Carlisle. He had to beat The Young Master decisively and duly did so with a round of jumping that will have thrilled his trainer. With Silviniaco Conti likely to swerve Cheltenham next March, Nicholls will be hopeful that Saphir can step into the breach.

As American Pharoah and Golden Horn retire from racing and take up their new careers as stallions, so we welcome familiar heroes to the new National Hunt season. The early signs are certainly positive. Last winter was sensational, and we look set for more of the same.

Ryanair Chase 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

Ryanair Chase Preview and Tips: Can Dynaste win a second Ryanair?

Can Dynaste win a second Ryanair?

Ryanair Chase 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

It's now just 35 days - or five weeks in old money - until Cheltenham Festival 2015 kicks off, and it's time for another ante-post preview. With the World Hurdle, Gold Cup, and Arkle already in the can; the Champion Hurdle looking bereft of value; and the Champion Chase still impossible to call, I'm taking a swipe at the Ryanair Chase...

Ryanair Chase Trends

Last year was the tenth running of the race in its current guise, having previously been run as the Cathcart Challenge Trophy, a Grade 2 for first or second season chasers only. So we have ten years' worth of data to go on...

106 horses contested those ten Ryanair Chases, and we'll be looking at the runners to winners ratio in the below.

Age: Although six and seven year olds have only won two of the ten Ryanairs, they've done it from just sixteen runners. That's 20% of the winners from 15% of the runners. Not a huge sample size, granted, but ballast is applied with the fact that eight of the thirty win and placed horses (27%) were this age, from the same 15% of runners.

Eight to ten year olds were responsible for the remaining eight winners, from 79 runners - 80% wins from 75% runs, so not massively material.

The eleven horses aged eleven or above failed to win and secured a single placed effort between them.

Last time out:

Finishing Position: Six (60%) of the 45 horses (42%) to finish first or second last time won. Given that a further 14 were placed (67% win/place), these may be reliable propositions upon which to focus.

Grade: Seven (70%) of the 47 horses (44%) to have run in a Grade 1 last time took Ryanair gold. The other three ran in Grade 2 (two) and Grade 3 (one) company the last day.

Distance: Quite interesting is this one. With just one (10%) of the 39 horses (37%) to have run at two and a half miles or less last time winning the Ryanair, a prep over a reflective trip looks a banker.

Days since a run: All ten winners had run last between 26 and 90 days ago. The 24% of runners who historically hadn't run in that time, and couldn't get it done in the Ryanair, may be a portent to the long absent and the quick returning this time around, too.

Odds: Given the fairly 'obvious' nature of most winners - i.e. youngish horses who won or nearly won last time out - it is little surprise that this has been a 'chalky' (i.e. top of the market) race. Indeed, nine of the ten winners were priced between 3/1 and 6/1, from just 21 to fall in that price range.

90% winners from 20% runners is clearly an attractive stat, but using market price as a means to qualify a bet is precarious at best. Nevertheless, it is testament to a general lack of depth in the Ryanair. With that said, this year may yet prove an exception in that regard.

Official Rating: Although the first three winners of the Ryanair were rated in the 150's, it is a race which has attracted better horses as the years have worn on. Last year, Dynaste was the highest rated winner yet, on 169; and the average of the last four winners has been 167.

Other: Seven of the ten winners (70%) had previously won at beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip, from 47% of the runners, again doffing a statistical cap to the advantage of proven stamina.

Ryanair Chase Form Preview

There are 39 still entered at time of writing, and a number of them may yet go shorter (Champion Chase) or longer (Gold Cup). With only one bookmaker offering the 'non-runner money back' concession at this stage - well done Boylesports - we need to tread carefully or wager with that safety net firm.

The top of the market is a two way go between last year's winner, Dynaste, and Irish up-and-comer, Don Cossack.

STOP PRESS: 4th February: A day after publishing this post, Dynaste has been ruled out for the season.

Let's start with the champ.

As he did last year, Dynaste looks set to enter the Festival arena without a win this season. However, that is to take little away from his credentials. Indeed, it can be argued that in defeat he has achieved more than any other in the field, so close has he got to the Gold Cup favourite, Silviniaco Conti, in both the Betfair Chase and the King George.

If it was felt that those two races - run at around three miles - stretched his stamina, that looked to be confirmed last month when Dynaste was outstayed up the Cheltenham hill by Many Clouds and Smad Place, two horses about which there are no such range reservations.

The drop back to the Ryanair trip looks a no-brainer and, while connections have yet to finally commit, it would surely be an act of lunacy to go long, and into the Gold Cup itself.

Another consideration with Dynaste is that in those beaten runs in the past two seasons, four of the five were on soft ground. Without saying David Pipe's son of Martaline doesn't act on soft, it is probably fair to say he's a slightly better horse on slightly better ground.

It's likely to be slightly better ground in mid-March and, with trip and grade proven by last year's win, Dynaste is a solid favourite.

Interestingly, then, in some books he's not the jolly, that privilege being afforded to the Don, Cossack. Or Don Cossack to give him his proper un-punctuated name.

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Gordon Elliott's eight year old has improved a stone or so on ratings this season in a four race unbeaten streak which included the Grade 1 John Durkan in early December, and the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase in mid-January. Whilst difficult to crab a horse with figures of four out of four, it is still possible to pick holes in the form of his runs.

The two key efforts are those alluded to above, in the first of which he benefited from his main market rival - Boston Bob - suffering material interference; and in the second of which his main market rival - Champagne Fever - fell at the last.

In the Don's defence, he would probably have won both races anyway, albeit by relatively fine margins. But it must be beyond question that in that pair of two-and-a-half-milers he took on horses unsuited by the distance: Champagne Fever looks a certainty for the Champion Chase over two miles, and Boston Bob will go the full Gold Cup trip (which I suspect might test his stamina too far - he looks a three miler these days, dead on).

The Cossack will go on any ground, and the Ryanair looks his ideal range. There remains an unanswered question about the specific - and significant - demands of Cheltenham, with his fall in the RSA Chase last year the only attempt. So, while he comes into the race on an upward curve, I'm not personally convinced he can improve from his Irish rating of 166 to the approximate 170 I suspect will be required to win this year's Ryanair. Not at Cheltenham anyway.

Cue Card, the 2013 winner, is third choice in all books at an almost uniform 8/1. Promoted from 165 to 170 after that fine effort almost two years ago, Cue Card went as high as 174 after claiming the 2013 Betfair Chase fifteen months back.

Since then, it has largely been a tale of regression, his fine second in the 2013 King George aside. Indeed, having started favourite in his first two starts this season, Colin Tizzard's stable star finished fourth both times, with double digit distances 'twixt himself and the race winners. His thirteen length fifth in the 2014 King George was disappointing enough to warrant  an eight pound easing in his official rating, and he does have a lot to prove on this year's form.

It is worth reminding readers that Cue Card was off for the best part of a year after suffering a stress fracture of the pelvis so, while it is dangerous to write off a yard as talented and targeted as Tizzard's, it might be that we've seen the best of this former Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner.

Champagne Fever, himself a former Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner, remains in many lists at around 10/1, but the only bookmaker to play this horse with is Boyle and their non-runner money back insurance. He is very likely to go the shorter route and, in any case, the evidence is that he doesn't stay this far.

That brings us to one of the most interesting runners in the field, Jonjo O'Neill's Johns Spirit. It has been mentioned elsewhere on this site what a brilliant Cheltenham Festival target trainer Jonjo is, so an absence since Boxing Day is of little concern.

Johns Spirit has improved right through the handicap ranks, winning a Class 2 chase and then the Paddy Power in late 2013, and then running a fair fourth in the Byrne Group Plate at last year's Festival. That was off a mark of 148, and he kicked this season off with a 2m4f win in a Class 2 handicap chase, again at Cheltenham.

Next stop was a title defence in the Paddy Power in November, where he was just collared on the line. That day he lugged top weight, and was ceding two stone less a pound to his vanquisher, Caid Du Berlais. It should be added that the Paddy Power form has worked out pretty poorly so far, with none of the 26 subsequent runs of horses that competed there yielding a win, and only four making the frame.

Away from his beloved Cheltenham, Johns Spirit was upped to championship class in the King George and ran respectably. His 16 length sixth reads better than Cue Card's slightly narrower defeat on the basis that both track and trip were probably against him.

I'm not sure Johns Spirit is good enough to win the Ryanair, but there is some juice in his 12/1 quote to find out.

There follow a pair of 14/1 chances, headed by Balder Succes. Alan King's seven year old has won three times at around this distance, all on pan flat tracks (twice at Kempton, once at Warwick), and his Cheltenham record is comprised of letters rather than numbers: FUF.

If that's not enough to put you off, then it is worth noting that he would probably have won - albeit over two miles - when falling two out in the latter 'F', and he has completed in all ten starts since. But I'd be fairly confident that the combination of distance and stiff finish will find him out, even if the fences don't.

Al Ferof is the other 14/1 shot, and he's an interesting player in whichever Festival race he's pitched at. I've had - and recommended - a small tickle on him (NRNB) for the Gold Cup here. And I'm happy to take a small slice of 12's when 14/1 is generally available to avail of the same non-runner no bet insurance as I have in the Gold Cup.

Third in the King George, that gives him the jump on a few in this field if a strict lateral interpretation is made. Depending on how you viewed that race, he was either outpaced and plodded on, or he was outstayed. The balance of his form suggests he was probably outstayed, but that's by no means unequivocal.

For a start, he's been in the first three in all of his trio of three mile runs, two of which were in the King George. But at around two and a half miles, he has form of 3131151. He is a Grade 1 winner and a quadruple Grade 2 winner, and he won the Paddy Power in 2012 over this distance but on the Old Course at Cheltenham (the Ryanair is run on the New Course).

Detractors will point to his fifth place in last year's Ryanair, where he was beaten less than eight lengths. But here's what I believe the key to be with Al Ferof: he goes best fresh. To wit, his record after a break of 60 days or more is 1F1111, a sequence which takes in all four of his Grade 2's, as well as his Paddy Power win, where he hauled close to top weight.

In short, I think a rested Al Ferof is a threat in his connections' chosen Festival engagement, and I suspect the Ryanair is the perfect spot for him.

A gaggle of possibles lurk in the 16/1 to 20/1 range, including Ballycasey, Taquin De Seuil, Hidden Cyclone, Ma Filleuile and Uxizandre.

Ballycasey seemingly had few excuses when lapped at Leopardstown at Christmas, and a rating of 153 gives him a stone and more to find.

Taquin De Seuil is more interesting. He won the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half at the Festival last year, touching off the gallant front runner, Uxizandre, that day. He's not been seen since pulling up in the Betfair Chase in November and, even with Jonjo's healing hands, it's a leap of faith to see the horse coming back not just right but ten pounds better than ever.

Uxizandre on the other hand had looked an improver this season, before a desperate showing in desperate ground in the same race as Ballycasey at Leopardstown over Christmas. That performance might have been down to the ground, but it might not have, and in any case there's a fair chance he'll run in the Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair.

One thing to note: he's currently 14/1 to win any race at the Festival with Hills, and that looks better than either 20/1 for the Ryanair or 16/1 for the Queen Mother. I made that bet before the Christmas copybook blot and my 10/1 looks less than shrewd now...

Hidden Cyclone must be a player. After all, he comes to Cheltenham on the back of a good win in the Tied Cottage Chase, and he was second in the Ryanair last year. He'll probably be moved up to 164 or so by the Irish handicapper for his win on Sunday, but he was punch drunk on the run in last year.

The suspicion is that he won't quite get home, and that's backed up by connections likely opting for the shorter Champion Chase option.

Ma Filleule has taken good support this week for this race, and it's unclear to me why. It's been suggested that Mark Howard nominated her as a player, but I wouldn't have thought his sphere of influence was sufficient to move the market (25's into 16's, one remaining spot of 20's) thus. It was also mentioned that a write up in The Times had said she was in great form, but plans were still undecided between this race and the Gold Cup.

Anyway, be all that as it may, the issue is that she is no better than 20/1, and her form gives her seven pounds to find. Although she's won over three miles - in a Kempton handicap chase - this looks her optimal trip and her two most recent efforts can be forgiven for over-stretching her range elastic.

With two second places from four Cheltenham starts, one of them in the Festival Handicap Chase behind Holywell last term, she will have no issue with the race parameters and it's 'merely' a question of whether she's good enough. I could envisage her making the frame, but she'd have to take a big step forward and a fair number fail to go as well as they can for her to win.

The highest rated of all the UK runners, and still a 25/1 shot in one book, is Menorah. Ten year olds have won this - Fondmort, Our Vic and Albertas Run - so age is not an issue. His rating has elevated from 161 in April 2014 to its current 169, and he's been rated in the 160's since 2012. That's a figure that, being frank, a number of the better fancied horses in the market will never achieve; and this is Menorah's only Festival entry.

So why the big price? I imagine it is mainly down to the regression in his course form. Since winning the 2010 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, he added a couple more Graded hurdles at the track before being weighed down by my financial support in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, finishing a fair fifth behind the unparalleled Hurricane Fly.

Defeat to Grandouet in the following season's International Hurdle saw a career change to fences, the first season of which culminated in a respectable third to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle. It should be noted he was beaten nearly thirty lengths that day, however, and since then has run lamentably in both Festival starts.

They were both in the Ryanair, and read Po. Another such performance would render a Ryanair form string of PoP or Poo, either of which illustrates why Laddies are happy to take a 'pony' chance with him. At the price, I'll admit, I'm tempted for small money.

Ryanair Chase 2015 Tips

In what looks at first glance to be an open race, a combination of preferred engagements and official ratings soon pares things down to a more manageable number.

Dynaste has an obvious form chance and looks to be in the same sort of fettle as he was last year. He's 5/1 in places and that's fair enough without being exciting. My issue is I can't back him at 4/1 NRNB, and I can't back him at 5/1 without the concession. So, at this stage, I can't back him!

In order to derive value from any market, we have to be prepared to allow something near the head of the field to beat us. For me, it is Don Cossack. His unbeaten run this term has been more due to the poor placement and/or jumping of others than his own efforts, and if he's good enough to win, so be it, and fair play.

Cue Card has a Ryanair on his palmarès already, but on current form - even factoring in my huge respect for the stable - he's hard to back at a single figure price.

Johns Spirit is interesting, and a possible on both trainer and track form; but not as interesting to me as Al Ferof. I really like this fellow and think he's been under-rated for a lot of his career. That's why he's the price he is - as well as his multiple engagements muddying the waters - and if he goes straight to the Festival now, that will be perfect. 12/1 non-runner no bet looks good.

Uxizandre to win any race at 14's with Hills isn't the worst bet in the world either, especially back on better ground. But I couldn't recommend him solely for this race because he's still a possible for the Champion Chase.

That leaves Menorah and that 25/1. He's as likely to run a 'P' or an '0' as he is to run a 123 - more likely in the eyes of one firm's traders - but that's factored into the price. Between those two howlers, Menorah did run second in a Grade 2 handicap, giving lumps of weight away, at Cheltenham. And this season, he's finished second in the Betfair Chase as well as winning the Grade 2 Charlie Hall on good ground. The price makes the bet - always - and 25/1 is too big, for a sliver.

1pt win Al Ferof 12/1 Boylesports NRNB (14/1 general, all in run or not)

1/2 pt win Johns Spirit 11/1 Boylesports NRNB (12/1 general, all in run or not)

1/2 pt win Menorah 25/1 Ladbrokes all in run or not


Also previewed for Cheltenham Festival 2015

Gold Cup Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

World Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Arkle Chase Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Ryanair Chase Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Charlie Hall first step to Cheltenham for Long Run and novice challengers

Long Run - heads Charlie Hall field

Long Run - heads Charlie Hall field

There may be no racing in England today storm St Jude has already led to the abandonment of Bangor and Leicester, and we won’t know about Redcar until after a 9.00 inspection. Never mind, we can use the time to consider what is looking likely to be an unusually competitive bet365 Charlie Hall chase at Wetherby on Saturday. Read more

Late decision on Dynaste Cheltenham target

Late decision on Dynaste's Cheltenham target

David Pipe expects his star novice chaser Dynaste to run at Cheltenham, but remains far from certain whether that will be in the RSA Chase or the shorter Jewson. He doesn’t expect to decide before the five-day entry stage, which leaves a dilemma for anyone currently thinking of backing him ante post. Read more

Just how good is Big Buck’s?

The publication of the Anglo-Irish Jumps Classifications yesterday confirmed that there are currently two horses in training in desperate need of serious opposition if we are to learn how good they are, one from each code of the sport. Read more

Monday Mish Mash: The Last Before Christmas

Big Buck's wins again

Big Buck's wins again

It's the final Monday Mish Mash before Christmas, and in something of a 'no news' update, I've got my take on the weekend racing action, and a look ahead to what's coming up. Plus prize winner Paul does the standard 'cheesy grin with cheque' pose for all. 🙂

So let's take a look at the weekend's racing just passed, and see if there aren't any pointers to the future. Well, to be honest, if there were, then I missed them.

Big Buck's extended his winning run to fourteen with another facile win over not much opposition. To his credit, he did it emphatically, and he can't do any more than that. But if we learned anything, it is that Dynaste is probably not a realistic contender for the World Hurdle.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that So Young is the each way bet to nothing. Sure, he has to improve at least ten pounds from his current mark of 149 to be in with a realistic chance. But the handicapper can only rate him on what he's done, and winning a three runner contest in facile fashion from horses rated in the low 140's is not World Hurdle form... yet. Those comments may also apply to a Navan Sunday winner, and more of that in a moment.

He's entered both in a Listed contest on Thursday over two miles, and in a Grade 1 on 29th. He'll surely go for the former, and will again have to win comfortably despite the trip being on the sharp side, even on the projected heavy ground.

Getting back to Ascot at the weekend, Five Dream and Restless Harry plugged on well for second and third, but neither was in the same county as the winner at the finish line. (For the record, Big Buck's was in the county of Berkshire, while the silver and bronze medallists were still making their way over from neighbouring Surrey...)

One notable performance was that of The Minack in the handicap chase on Ascot's Saturday card. He lugged 11-01 to a stout staying victory here, and might be an each way play at a fat price for the Gold Cup. He'll stay far better than many, and is still improving. In a year where there are few with robust credentials (barring the favourite, Long Run), places will be up for grabs.

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Incidentally, I'll be bringing you a preview of the Gold Cup in the next few days, just in time for it to look potentially preposterous as many of the blue riband aspirants have their post-Christmas trial spins! That's how we roll here at geegeez 😉

Over at Fairyhouse, Blazing Tempo did the biz over 2m2f, and she'll be aimed most likely at the Ryanair Chase at the Festival, but connections are also talking about a possible hurdles tilt. If she turns up in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham in March, she'd be of serious interest.

It was oh so hard going at Haydock in the Tommy Whittle, and Pearlysteps might well have got back up to beat the winner, Cannington Brook, had he not tumbled at the last. Cannington was ten lengths clear of Our Island jumping the last, but stopped to a walk on the run in and just held on.

Whether he idled or was plain knackered is the subject of conjecture, but his record of seconds and thirds is a worry, and the way he finished off here did little to dispel the belief that this may be an expensive horse to follow in the main.

To Sunday and, aside from Stat of the Day getting off the cold list with a nice 6/1 winner (backed in to 9/2), there was little of note this side of the Irish Sea. However, over Navan way, things were of mild interest.

The opening Grade 2 hurdle was won easily by Zaidpour, who landed odds of 1/3 in the process. This was little more than a schooling round and proved little more than Zaidpour still has a leg in each corner. It will be interesting to see where he heads next and, like So Young, the World Hurdle is a realistic option down the line, with a fair bit to prove 'twixt the cup of now and the lip of then.

Boston Bob was a good winner of the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle over 2m4f, and this puts him near the top of the tree for Irish novice hurdlers. From a punting perspective, it's hard to know whether he'll be pitched towards the 2m5f or the 3m novice at the Festival. Considering the state of the ground and the way he was going away at the finish, I'd think the greater test of stamina would suit better.

Boston Bob is 12's for the Albert Bartlett and 14's for the Neptune which reflects layers' uncertainty. For now, it's a watching brief, and I'd still favour Fingal Bay if the two were to cross hooves.

And that, dear reader, was that. Not a lot to get too excited about, and this week does little to allay the nagging contention that we are now amidst a brief lull: the doldrums of the week before Christmas, which will soon break into a storm of tip top racing from Boxing Day through to January 2nd.

To fill that hiatus, I'll be looking - as I said - at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and trying to find one or two likely to shorten as a consequence of a good performance over the said festive period. Obviously, my primary concern for any selection is that they will be suited by the conditions of the March race, so we'll see how those deliberations pan out.

I'll also have news of a freebie betting system, and how you can get it. There are more than enough things to be spending cash on just now, so a spot of festive freeness might be welcome.

Talking of such things, step forward the ravishing Paul Whitworth, for it was he who copped the £250 of free readies for entering the geegeez Prize Draw. Below is a picture Paul was kind enough to take, and he even managed to get a shot of the website in the background! Above and beyond the call of duty. Top Man! 🙂

Geegeez Prize Draw winner, Paul Whitworth

Geegeez Prize Draw winner, Paul Whitworth

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Thanks a lot, and I'll be back with that preview, most likely on Wednesday.